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Chapter One: Enterprise
Position yourself in the right place -- on the surface of the moon, say, somewhere near the slow-moving dayline, or in one of the L5 habitats swinging in peaceful captivity around the world -- and you can see it without any trouble: the old Earth in the new Earth's arms. Some people prefer her that way to any other. Not for them the broad blue cloud-swirled disk, all bright and safe and easily seen. They want mystery; they want the Earth's nightly half-bath in the old dark. She always emerges, but (to these people's relief) she always dips in again -- the blue fire fading away down through the spectrum, the rainbow of atmosphere's edge, down through the last flash of crimson, to black.
And when she does, the stars come out. Faithful as the other, farther stars, in steady constellations, they turn as the night that holds them turns -- he splatters of spilled-gem light that are BosWash, Ellay, Greater Peking, Bolshe-Moskva, Plu'Paris. The great roadways across continents are bright threads, delicate as if spiders of fire had spun them: here and there the light is gentled by coming from far underwater, as in the Shelf cities off the Pacific coasts of Japan and old North America. At the edge, a limb of brightness shows, the sunrise inexorably sliding around the curved edge of things: but the limb is narrow, the merest shaving of pearl and turquoise curving against the breadth of night. And for the time being, night reigns.
In places light shows without man having made it. When the moon is in the right phase, the polar icecaps are one wide sheen of palely burning white; the Rockies and the Himalayas and the Alps and Andes glow with a firefly fire, faint but persistent. Sometimes even the Great Wall will show: a silver hair, twisting, among the silver glint of rivers...and afterward the Moon will slide away and around in her long dance with the Earth to gaze at the great diffuse bloom of her own disk's light in Atlantic or Pacific. Half a month from now the Moon will swing around at the new, and all these places, under the sun again, will give their light back to her, ashen, a breath of silver against the dark side of the satellite's phase. But for now the Earth keeps the moonlight and the romance to herself, slowly turning, shimmering faint and lovely like a promise made and kept a long time ago. Darkness scattered with diamonds, and the darkness never whole: there she lies, and turns in her sleep...
...and over her comes climbing other light, passing out of the fire of the far side's day: a golden light like a star, dimmed from a blaze to a spark as it passes the terminator, twenty-five thousand miles high. Moonlight silvers her now as she approaches, not hurrying, a shade more than eleven thousand miles per hour, not quite geosynchronous, gaining on the Earth. She seems a delicate thing at first, while distant -- a toy, afl slender pale light and razory shadows -- then bigger, not a toy anymore, the paired nacelles growing, spearing upward, reaching as high as thirty-story buildings, the main dish blocking the sky away from zenith to "horizon" as it passes by, passes over. Silent she passes,, massive, burning silver, gemmed in ruby and emerald with her running fights, black only where shadows fall and where. the letters spell her number and name in one language of her planet of registry, the planet she's about to leave. NCC 1701, the Starship Enterprise, slips past in moonlight, splashed faint on her undersides with the light of Earth's cities, ready to give all the light up for the deep cold dark that is her proper home...
It takes time to walk right around a starship. Eleven decks in the primary hull, twelve in the secondary, from an eighth of a mile of corridors per deck to maybe two or three -- the old simile comparing a starship to a small town becomes more obviously true than ever to someone determined to do the hike. Jim, though, didn't mind how long it took, and he did as much of it as time allowed, every time he came aboard after a refit.
This time he altered his usual routine a little. After all day stuck down at Fleet, he thought, I'm entitled to a change of pace. Bloody desk pilots...But a second later he put away the annoyance: he had what he had gone for. Jim laughed to himself, and shortly thereafter beamed up via the cargo transporters, along with a shipment of computer media, toiletries, and medical supplies.
Cargo Transport was a more pleasant place, in some ways, than the usual crew transporters. The huge room was in the space next to the shuttlecraft hangars, and needed to be, since anything too big to ship up any other way, from warp-engine parts to container cargo, wound up here. The place tended to be noisy and busy any time the ship was near a planet: at the moment, it was a vast happy racket, boxed and crated and forceshielded matériel being carried in all directions on gravflats of varying sizes. Jim got down Off the pads in a hurry to avoid being run over by a couple of G-flats the size of shuttlecraft, and then paused on the loading floor, seeing who was maneuvering the flats by him -- two Earth-human crewmen, a small wiry auburn-haired man and a tall dark-haired woman with a Valkyrie's figure under a cargoloader's coverall.
"Mr. Matejas," he said, "Mz. Tei," and as they heard his greeting and realized with surprise who he was, they started to come to attention. He waved them off it. "As you were. How was the engagement party?"
The two of them looked at each other, and Jorg Matejas blushed, and Lala Tei chuckled. "It was terrific," she said, shaking her red hair back. "Everybody had a great time, especially the Sulamids...Rahere and Athene got into the sugar, and you know how Sulamids are about sugar, it was a riot, their tentacles got all knotted, and it took us about an hour to get them undone. Sir, thank you so much for the 'gram! Jorg's mom nearly went to pieces when Fleet called and read it in the middle of the party, she was so excited..."
Jim smiled, for that had been his intention. One of his more reliable sources of gossip had let him know that Mr. Matejas's mother was very uncomfortable about her son marrying someone holding higher rank than his. Jim had responded by studying Jorg's record very carefully, noting that he was somewhat overdue for promotion, and then correcting the matter...making sure that the news of his promotion hit him during the party, via the addressing of the congratulatory telegram. The source-of-gossip, also present at the party, had let Jim know later that the name signed at the bottom of the 'gram had counted for almost as much as Jorg's jump in grade to quartermaster's mate. Jim had been gratified -- there were apparently times when being a galactic hero could be turned to some use. "You're very welcome."
"Sir," Jorg said, "I'm glad we had the chance to see you. I wanted to thank you, very much indeed."
"You earned it," Jim said. "Don't think otherwise. If I helped with the timing a little, consider it my pleasure. Meanwhile, how's the loading going?"
Jorg heard the when under the "how." "Half an hour, Captain," he said. "Less if possible."
Jim smiled more widely, for reasons that had nothing to do with the timetable. "Good enough. Carry on," he said, and went away feeling unusually pleased inside.
He strode across the loading floor, and all the way across it was "Good morning, Captain," "Good evening, Captain," and Jim's smile got broader and broader: not at the inconsistency among greetings, for the ship was back on cruise shift schedules again, three shifts relieving one another, and some people were working overtime. Out into the corridor, and it was the same thing, when he said hello to his people or they said hello to him: no "Admiral," nothing fancy, just "Captain" again, as God intended. It was a great relief. As he walked the halls, Jim acquired a grin that would not go away.
The long afternoon in Fleet Admiral Nogura's office had been trying, but the results had been worth it. Twenty hours after beaming up from the Willow Grove, eight hours after beaming over to Fleet to handle the inevitable paperwork involved with a new set of missions, he was happily demoted to captain, effective immediately, revocable at Fleet's discretion. Some people would not have understood it, this desire to be de-admiraled. But most of those people weren't naval, or had lost touch with the naval tradition that was so much a part of Starfleet. And Nogura, in love (Jim told himself tolerantly) with the power of the Fleet Admiral's position, couldn't understand it either. It's not his fault, Jim thought. He's been one too long, that's all.
Admirals, from time immemorial, didn't command anything but fleets: they managed strategy and tactics on a grand scale...but Jim wasn't interested in a scale quite that grand. Captains might be obliged to give admirals rides to where they were going, and to obey their orders: but for all that, the captains were more in command than ever an admiral was. There might be more than one admiral on a ship...but never more than one captain. Even as a passenger, another captain would be "bumped" a grade up to commodore -- partly out of courtesy, partly to avoid discourtesy to the ship's true master. It was real sovereignty, the only kind Jim cared for, and he was glad to get rid of the extra braid on his arms and settle into the happy business of interacting, not with fleets, but with people.
Jim did that for the hour it took him to cover the manned parts of the engineering hull, stopping last at Engineering. He strolled in, and almost immediately began to wish he hadn't. Pieces of the backup warpdrive were all over the floor, or hovering on placeholders, and Scotty was thundering around among his engineering ensigns, shouting at them. Fortunately, he was doing so in the tone of voice that Jim had eventually learned meant everything was going all right, and so he relaxed and stood there for a bit, enjoying the spectacle.
"Ye can't put a drive together as if it was a bitty babbie's picture puzzle, for pity's sake," Scotty was telling the air with genial scorn, as junior crewmen scuttled around him with calibrating instruments and tools and engine parts, looking panic-stricken. "There's got to be some system to't. You can't bring up the multistate equivocators until the magnetic bottle's on-line, and where's the bottle then? Ye've had ten whole minutes! -- Afternoon, Captain," he added.
Jim smiled again. "Problems, Scotty?" he said, not because he perceived any, but because he knew Scotty expected that he would ask.
"Ah no, just a drill. What if these poor children have to reassemble a warp engine by themselves some one of these days, with only impulse running and a pack of Klingons howling along behind 'em? They've got the brains for it: would they be on the Enterprise if they didn't? Best they learn how now. We'll be tidy again in twenty minutes. Or I'll know the reason why!" Scotty added, at the top of his voice. The scuttling got much more frantic. Apparently Scotty's crew considered the chief engineer in what Jim had heard them describe as "one of his moods" to be slightly more dangerous to deal with than mere Klingons.
Jim nodded. I might as well get out, he thought; they look nervous enough without me watching as well. "Officers' briefing at point seven, Scotty," he said.
"Aye, I checked my terminal for the schedule a while back." Scotty looked around him with satisfaction. "Just before I crashed the Engineering computers.
Jim was astonished, and looked around him...then felt mildly sheepish, for he'd never even noticed that every screen in the place was blank. "They're putting this thing together without the computer prompts? Not even the emergency systems?"
Scotty shrugged. "Who's to say we could guarantee them that the backup systems would be working in an emergency?" he said. "Even backups fail. But their little brains won't...if we train them properly. FIVE MINUTES!!" he told the world at large. Then looking around the floor, he said, "By rights I should evacuate the place and make them do it in pressure gear. If her side was blown this far open that they'd have to reassemble from scratch, they'd need that practice."
Jim shook his head, feeling sorry for this Engineering crew, all doomed to be turned into mechanical "geniuses" like their mad teacher. "Talk to Spock about scheduling, if you feel the need."
Scotty nodded, and together he and Jim stood and watched the matter-antimatter mix column being put together from the field generators up. "By the bye, Captain, have you scheduled the crew briefing yet?"
"Point four, tomorrow morning."
Jim patted Scotty on the back. "I'm off, then," he said.
Scotty eyed him suspiciously for a moment. "You've picked up a bit of an Irish accent," he said.
"Might not be strange," Jim said. "The people I was with were claiming that my family wasn't Scots. Sorry, " he said, as Scotty looked at him with an expression of shock that was only partly faked. "Really. They claim the name Kirk was an Anglicization of O'Cuire. It would explain why my family was in the east of Ireland to begin with..."
"Those people will say anything," Scotty said, and grinned a little. "Get on with ye. Sir."
Jim headed out. "THREE MINUTES!" the voice roared behind him, as he got to the turbolift and stepped in.
"Where to, Captain?" the lift said to him.
He smiled again. "Bridge."
The place looked a little strange when the lift doors opened on it, as home often does when one's been away from it for a while. Jim stepped out, nodded greeting at Uhura and Sulu, who gestured or smiled hello at him. He waved them back to what they were doing and glanced around to the Science station. Spock was bent over it, making some adjustment. "Readout now," he said, straightening and looking over his shoulder at the large, shaggy-fringed rock that was sitting in the center seat.
Some of those glittering fringes stroked the open circuitry of the communicator controls in the seat's arm. "Point nine nine three," said a scratchy voice from the voder box mounted on the rock's back. "A nice triple sine."
"'Nice'?" said Spock. Jim raised an eyebrow: you could have used Spock's tone of voice to dry out a martini.
"Within high-nominal limits," said the rock, and there was a definite smile in the voice, despite the fact that the voder should not have been able to convey emotion. "A third-order curve, sir. Skew no more than e minus zero point two two four six. No crystal infrequency, no parasitic vibrations, signal loss within accepted IEEE and CCITT parameters, layback less than point zero two percent, hyperbolic -- "
"That should be sufficient, Mr. Naraht," Spock said, looking over at the captain with a slight wry expression.
"Mr. Naraht," Jim said, stepping down beside the helm. Lieutenant Naraht was a Horta, a hatchling of the original Horta on Janus VI: one of an intensely curious species that could no more have stayed out of space, once they came to understand it, than they could have stopped eating rock. Jim had watched Naraht's career since he was transferred to the Enterprise with both interest and pleasure: the Horta had gone from eager, avid "space cadet" to seasoned officer in a very short time...no surprise, considering some of the things he had been through, with the rest of the crew, since he came aboard. Now Jim patted the back of the center seat and said, "Trying her out for fit, mister?"
There would have been a time when the remark would have made Naraht wriggle all over, embarrassed -- and the sight of a quarter-ton of living stone, the shape and color of a giant fringed asbestos pan pizza, being embarrassed, had occasionally been memorable. But now Naraht merely looked up -- at least Jim felt he was being looked at, though he was unsure as to how -- and said, "Respectfully, sir, I think I would need something a little bigger. There was some distortion showing up in the commcircuits, that was all, and Mr. Spock asked me to assist him in isolating it."
Jim nodded, seeing the point: there were certain advantages in having a crewman who could make direct "neural" connections with solid circuitry and feel what was wrong with it as an itch or a tic, rather than as a string of numbers. But one who could feel the problem and then translate it into the numbers as well -- that was someone invaluable. As usual, half the departments in the ship were fighting over Naraht's services. Biochemistry, geology, xenoarchaeology, they a wanted him -- Naraht could do detailed chemical analysis, or even carbon- or selenium-dating, by merely eating a piece of the object in question and reporting on the "flavor." As far as Jim knew, Naralit's only complaint about being on the Enterprise was that he was gaining weight at a shocking rate and didn't know what his mother would think when she saw him...
Jim glanced over at Spock. "I could have sworn that Mr. Naraht had almost given you more data than you needed."
"There is no such thing as too much data," Spock said calmly, "but there is such a thing as unnecessary detail. Nonetheless, the job is adequately completed. Thank you, Mr. Naraht."
"My pleasure, sir," said the Horta, and slipped down out of the helm onto the floor with his usual speed and silence, always surprising in someone so massive. "Captain? Your conn?"
"Thank you, Mr. Naraht," Jim said, and sat down. The seat was very warm -- not surprising: McCoy usually referred to the liquid-mineral complex that Naraht used for blood as "fluorocarbonated lava with asbestos hemocytes."
"Sir," Naraht said, and shuffled off into the lift to be about his business. Jim sat back in the command chair, and Spock stepped down beside him, holding out a padscreen.
Jim glanced down it, tilted the pad slightly to scroll through it. It was a very condensed, compressed version of the ship's schedule for that day, parts of it flowcharted where an activity of one ship's department was dependent on some data or action by another. Most of it he had already seen, at Fleet, when signing for his orders and Enterprise's "sailing papers" and authorizing the usual too-numerous vouchers, invoices and inventories.
"We're ready to go," he said.
"Of course," said Spock. "All transfer personnel are aboard and all assigned personnel are at post or accounted for. Our two scheduled rendezvous, with Swiftsure and Coromdndel, are estimated on-time in one-point-one-three and one-point-six days respectively. "
"Fine." Now Jim's eye lighted again on the listing that scheduled the senior officers' briefing, and he glanced up at Spock.
Spock bowed his head slightly. "I will be doing the mission situation analysis," he said.
"Thank you. You do seem better qualified than anyone else..."
Spock got an expression that would hardly have seemed like anything on a human face, but on a Vulcan was a most astonishing look of irony. "I am certainly considered by some to be part of the problem, " he said. "It seems only appropriate to attempt to be part of the solution."
Kirk nodded, scanned farther down the list. "Crew mixer's starting a little late."
"I would suspect this is so that the senior officers can attend," Spock said.
"Right." On Enterprise, as on many another ship, there was a tradition of a first-night-out "mixer" party for the crew, so that people could get together and debrief about what they had done on leave and catch up on personal business before getting down to the serious business of working on a starship. Some civilians had considered this frivolous, when they found out about it -- until surveys done by the Fleet Surgeons General proved that if the debriefing didn't happen formally, first night out, it tended to stretch out across the next month of travel time, impairing the crew's efficiency as it did so. With the release of that data, the complaining stopped. And the Enterprise always threw a very good party. "It had better be good," McCoy would say, only half joking, since Recreation was considered a part of Medicine, and the chief of Recreation reported directly to him.
"Captain," Uhura broke in, looking over her shoulder at Jim, "a private message has just come in for you -- the computer just finished decoding it. Shall I hold it?"
"No need," Jim said. "Put it here." He held up the padscreen.
Uhura touched a couple of controls to dump the material to the commlink in the pad. Jim hit the combination of shorthand-keys for "newest," and the message came up. Spock politely looked the other way.
"No," Jim said. "Take a look at this, Spock..."
TO: Cpt. J. T Kirk, cmdg NCC 1701 USS Enterprise
FROM: T'Pau, ac. affil. Vulcan Science Academy/shi'Kahr/a'Shav/Vulcan
You will have noted that your First Officer has been requested to give testimony in the proceedings regarding the Referendum on repeal of the Vulcan Articles of Federation. Logic dictates that due to previous close association with Vulcan and Vulcans, you should be asked to speak as well. This matter is left entirely to your discretion, and no onus will rest specifically or generally on the Federation or Starfleet if you elect to refuse. Please notify us as to your intention. T'Pau
"Well, Captain?" Spock said.
Jim stared at the pad. Lord, how I hate public speaking...Still, this is something worth speaking about. "Uhura," he said, "send a reply. My great respects to T'Pau, and I will be delighted to speak -- no, make that honored. Respectfully yours, signed, etcetera etcetera. Copies of the message and the reply to Starfleet, as well."
"Aye aye, sir," Uhura said.
Jim brought the ship's schedule back up on the screen of the pad and looked up at Spock.
"Anything further here that needs my attention?"
Spock reached over Jim's shoulder and tapped the pad: it cycled ahead to one entry. "A discretionary. Ship's BBS has asked for the release of more core memory."
Jim looked at the already substantial figure in gigabytes that the ship's bulletin board system was using already, and the fat increase being requested -- almost double the present memory storage. "What does Dr. McCoy say?"
Spock glanced momentarily at the ceiling, as if it might assist him in his phrasing. "He says that the Rec chief thinks it would be a good idea, and in general he agrees, especially as regards the message net -- but himself he thinks Mr. Sulu has already blown up more of Starfleet than is good for him on the 'damn bloodthirsty war games machine.'" Spock glanced mildly at Sulu's back: the helmsman was chatting with Chekov about a restaurant somewhere. "Apparently he has been experimenting with Klingon ship design in the BBS's ship exercise simulator. Improving both their design and their performance, if the comments of the people from Engineering are any indication. The Klingon ships in the simulation are apparently doing much better after 'Sulu refits.'"
"How have Mr. Sulu's efficiency ratings been?" said Jim, very softly.
"All above point eight and rising steadily," Spock said, just as quietly.
"And Bones hasn't scheduled him for a psych profile of any kind."
"So basically, Bones is just grouching off."
Spock looked at the captain as if he had announced that space was a vacuum: his look said both that the statement was obvious, and one about which a great deal more could be said. "In other regards," Spock said after a moment, "message traffic on the BBS has been up significantly in recent days."
"Are you recommending the augmentation?" Jim said.
"Logically," Spock said, "it would be a reasonable assumption to expect crew stress levels, and therefore volubility, to increase over the mission ahead of us. And it would be illogical to withhold what will be a valuable 'safety valve.'"
Jim cocked an eye at the pad, then tapped in an authorization code on the shorthand keys at the bottom. "Give them half again what they asked for." He let the pad scroll to the bottom. "I want a look at those refits, though. People elsewhere may be having the same ideas, if you get my drift."
"Affirmative. Mr. Tanzer has installed one of the optimum refits in the small simulation tank in Rec One."
"Tonight, then, at the party." Jim got up, handed Spock back the pad. "I'm going to get something to eat. I'll see you at the briefing."
The communicator whistled. "Sickbay to Bridge -- "
Jim nodded at Uhura. "Bridge," he said. "What is it, Bones?"
"Ijust got the most interesting piece of mail -- "
"From T'Pau?" Jim said. He glanced at Spock. Spock put an eyebrow up.
"You too, huh?" There was a moment's silence, and then McCoy said in an aggrieved tone, "Dammit, I'm a doctor, not a -- "
"Belay it, Bones. What's your answer?"
There was another pause, then a sigh. "Dammit," McCoy said, "when did I last turn down an argument with a Vulcan? I can hardly pass up one with the whole planet."
"Noted and logged," Jim said. "We'll talk about it later. Bridge out."
He turned toward the helm. "Mr. Chekov!"
"Sir?" said the navigator, turning in his seat.
"Plot us a course for Vulcan, warp two. Mr. Sulu, take us out of the system on impulse, one-tenth c, then warp us out."
"And if you see any Klingons," Jim added as he paused at the bridge entry, waiting for the lift doors to open, "for pity's sake, don't stop to sell them new warp engines! No need to make yourjob harder than it is..."
Sulu's chuckle was the last thing Jim heard as the lift doors shut on him.
The officers' mess was one of the more enjoyable parts of the ship, and not merely because it was for the officers. One could make a case that numerous parts of recreation and the arboretum were much nicer. But there was no faulting the view from the officers' mess. It was on the leading edge of the disk, with real windows, not viewscreens: floor-to-ceiling windows that gave the illusion of sitting at the twentythird century equivalent of a ship's prow. At sublight, the stars naturally didn't seem to move, but Sulu was apparently opting for the scenic route out through Sol system, the so-called "Grand tour," which more than made up for it. Jupiter swain slowly into view, a huge striped-candy crescent, then grew gibbous, then full, as Sulu slipped the Enterprise around the planet's curvature, slowly enough to pick up a little slingshotting from gravity, swiftly enough not to let the impulse drivers disturb or be disturbed by Jupiter's radiopause. Various moons whipped or lazed around the planet like thrown ball bearings as Enterprise passed her. Saturn was a yellow white star in the distance, growmig in the darkness as Sulu made for her.
Jim pushed his plate aside, having finished with his steak, and puffed the table screen close again on its swinging arm. Holding on it, amber on black, was a page of data.
From: Cally Sherrin/spec4.sci
Subj: USED B'HIVA
Origin: XenoBiology Lab IV/term: 1154/606
Best Quality Andorian B'hiva
One Careful Owner
No Dropouts! No lost meaning!
Warranty still in force
180 cr or best offer
Leave msg in BUYSELL or email area 6
Now what the devil is a b'hiva? Jim thought, and kept reading.
From: Nyota Uhura/Cmdr:comms
Subj: Taped Dictionaries
While on leave planetside (Terra or Luna), did anyone happen to pick up one of the taped or solid "tourist dictionaries" of local languages sometimes sold in souvenir shops, etc? Want to dump the thing? I'll trade you classical music, third-stream jazz, exotica, drama (BBC, RSC, Bolshoi a specialty). Looking particularly for Romanian, Kampuche, tlLow, Eurish (Dalton recension if possible), and other artificials (Anglish, Neolangue, SinoFrancaise, Cynthetic). Thanks! N.J.
Still working on her doctoral thesis, Jim thought. Uhura was busy working on improving universal translator theory, mostly by taking the old theory to pieces and putting it back together in shapes that were causing a terrible furor in academic circles on various planets. Jim vividly remembered one night quite a long time ago when he had asked Uhura exactly how she was going about this. She had told him, for almost an hour without stopping, and in delighted and exuberant detail, until his head was spinning with phoneme approximations and six-sigma evaluations and the syntactic fade and genderbend and recontextualization and linguistic structural design and the physics of the human dextrocerebral bridge. The session had left Jim shaking his head, thoroughly disabused of the idea (and ashamed of how long he had held it) that Uhura was simply a sort of highly trained switchboard operator...And as regarded her doctoral thesis, he could have found out simply enough that she was still working on the Earth-based algorithms, just by asking her: but this was a more interesting way of finding out. Cynthetic? he wondered, and made a mental note to ask her about it at the party.
He scrolled down through various replies to Uhura's message -- apparently quite a few people had picked up dictionaries that were now (or had immediately turned out to be) useless -- and finally determined to leave these messages for later. "Change area," he said to the screen. "Common room."
The screen flickered and gave him another page.
OPINION, INFORMED AND NOW
RANTING AND RAVING PERMITTED
NAMES NOT NECESSARY
It was one of the places he came to find out what his crew was thinking. Messages did not have to be attributed to a name or terminal, but they could not be private. The office of common room system operator rotated through the crew, offered to various members on the strength of their psych profiles in areas like calm reaction to stress and anger. The common room sysop tended to be closemouthed and dependable, the kind of person that others refer to as "a rock." (Once it had actually been Naraht, to the amusement of just about everyone.) Here tempers could flare, awful jokes be told safely, suspicions be aired, rumors be shot down. The common room was sometimes a peaceful place, sometimes a powderkeg. Jim never ignored it.
He scanned through the most recent messages, and one caught his eye:
VULCANS: WHO NEEDS 'EM?
They can't take care of themselves anymore. They can't even take care of a starship if you give it to them -- and now they claim that they're not good enough for us? Well, **** 'em and the sehlat they rode in on.
Jim breathed out. Serious? Or not? The statement mirrored some that he had heard on Earth, as this crisis had built and brewed. He scanned down the page.
Farther down, other people came in and maligned Bugs, whoever he or she or it was. Remarks appeared along the lines of "Maybe they've got a point: maybe we aren't good enough for them. Or good for them, anyway -- ." Other people said, "We need them. Someone has to tell them so. Let's hope that someone here can get it through those thick Vulcan skulls of theirs..." -- and Jim would heat up slightly under the collar: he was sure they were thinking of him. The problem was, so did Starfleet. Somehow they expected him to pull this rabbit out of the hat.
The problem was, the rabbit was a sehlat...and he didn't fully understand the shape of the hat. He thought he might never fully understand it, even if he lived to be as old as, well, as a Vulcan. And if he didn't come to understand it, pretty damn fast...then there would no longer be Vulcans in the Federation to be as old as.
Not to mention that he would suddenly be bereft of one of his two best friends. And Starfleet would come down very, very hard, right on his neck. He refused to try to choose which of those options bothered him more.
Jim scrolled down through the messages. They were not all about Vulcans: some of them were about investing your pay, or relationships that were going well, or going sour, or the nature of God, or the awful way the meatloaf from Commissary Five tasted lately, was the computer there having a crash or something? But Jim read right through them, the complaints, the hello's, the nattering, until he came to the one message that made him simply stop and stare at the screen.
REPLY: to BUGS, 7412.1100
You're not thinking any more clearly than they are. It's not a question of whether we're good enough for them. Or not. They don't even know who we are...and they're going to judge us. But we've been judging us for thousands of years...and we don't know who we are, either.
So why all the noise? It won't matter. Until it's too late.
Jim looked up. Uranus slid into sight, slid past on the port side, glowing dim jade, its moons caught climbing topsy-turvy up one side of it as Enterprise passed. In a little while the ship would go into warp: in little more than two days, they would be in orbit around Vulcan.
It won't matter.
"Log off," Jim said after a pause, and spent some time gazing out into the darkness.
"Secession," Spock said, "is not the most accurate term for the act which the Vulcan planetary government is being asked to consider; but for the moment, it will serve."
The main briefing room was empty except for the department heads of the Enterprise, sitting around the table in the places that tended to become traditional over long periods of time. Spock, as department head of Science, sat at the "corner" that held the main table reference computer, the one that sent images and data to the subsidiary screens set around the table in its surface, at each place, unless the people sitting in front of them chose to override. Next to him sat Scotty, for the Engineering department: behind him was one of his sub-heads, Lasja Ihirian, who managed most routine maintenance and repair aboard ship. Lasja looked bored, but then he always looked bored in meetings -- fixing badly broken things was his metier and chief joy. A big, dark-skinned man in a Sikh's white turban, he sat and toyed with the hilt of his knife and looked just a hair from yawning.
Next down the table was Uhura, as head of communications: next to her, Lt. Meshav, who handled Data Management for the ship. What with routinely overseeing and programming the ship's computers, regularly rewriting or debugging their software, and making sure that the many complex interlocking computer systems didn't interfere with one another, it was the kind of job that almost required eight hands and four brains: and since Meshav effectively had both, s/he was very good at what s/he did. Meshav was a Sulamid, who looked like nothing more than a seven-foot-tall pillar of pink violet tentacles, with a waving rosette of stalked eyes on top...at least, when s/he was feeling like being pink, or feeling expansive enough to wave the eyes around. S/he had an octocameral brain, which meant s/he might manifest up to eight personalities. S/he tried to restrain herself from doing this too often, citing (as Jim had heard it put it) "pity for the poor single-mindeds." All the same, a poker game with Meshav was an interesting experience, especially considering that one personality was completely capable of hiding the contents of one's hand from all the others...not to mention from any opponent.
Next to Meshav sat the head of Security, Ingrit Tomson, a six-and-a-half-foot-tall, icy-looking woman with close-cropped blond hair and a deceptively gentle look about her; and down at the end of the table, next to Tomson, was Dr. McCoy for Medicine, and behind him, his sub-head, big silver-haired Harb Tanzer, for Recreation. Round the far corner of the table, the quartermaster, Seppu Visti, a small slender dark man with Finnish blood in his background and a computer in his head -- literally: he was testing the new Second Thought accounting implant for Starfleet, and could tell you the Enterprise's tonnage at any moment of the day or night, down to the last gram, depending on where and when you were in a voyage. Jim found it unnerving: one Spock should be enough for a ship. At least his ears are the right shape...And then came Defense, with Sulu sitting in as department head -- the headship shifted back and forth between the chiefs of Navigation and Weapons Control. And at last, at the head of the table, sat the captain.
He sat a little uneasily today, concerned by Spock's unusually somber look and tone. Jim glanced down the table and saw McCoy twitching slightly; he seemed to have caught the mood too. "I take it," Jim said, "that there have been no major new developments in the past few hours."
"Nothing major," Spock said, "but the situation is such that even very small changes in the equation, as it were, may have widespread effects."
He keyed up a string of commands on his console as he spoke. "One could say," Spock said, "that this situation had its roots in the first meeting of our peoples, when the UNSS Amity found a disabled Vulcan spacecraft adrift in Sol system in the year 2065 old Earth dating." He glanced up at Jim, a casual look, except that Jim knew Spock's differing memories of that first encounter, and shared them. McCoy's eyes were hooded: he too had a different experience of that early history than the one offered by the history books, but he gave no sign of that at the moment -- he merely sat listening in the head-bowed position that so often caused Spock to ask drily if would care to interrupt his nap and comment on something.
"That first encounter was lively enough, but peaceful, by human standards," Spock said. "The inhabitants of Terra had had a chance to lose their xenophobia somewhat, by meeting the Andorians peacefully, earlier on in that century: so the existence of Vulcans, and Vulcan, came as less of a shock to them than it might have. Diplomatic relations were opened within several years, and the trade and data exchange agreements followed very shortly thereafter. They have continued, and grown, over the past hundred and fifty-six years. Doubtless from this side of the Terran-Vulcan relationship, matters have seemed settled enough."
The screens came alive with the annotated time line that Spock had called up. "However, this easy relationship has largely been an illusion, the nature of which is little understood except by those who have some knowledge of Vulcan's history. The time line before you matches Vulcan's and Earth's developmental history, scale for scale, over the last six thousand years. Please direct your attention to the marked period starting around Vulcan old-date 139000. This corresponds approximately to Earth old-date 900 B.C. -- "
"Approximately?" McCoy muttered.
"I would not like to disturb your rest with unnecessary pedanticisms," Spock said gently, "but if you insist -- "
McCoy opened one eye, cocked it at Spock, then closed it again, as if deciding against another verbal passage of arms. A soft chuckle ran around the table: Meshav rustled its tentacles in amusement. "You go right on, there, Spock," McCoy murmured, "I'll wake up if you say anything interesting, believe me."
Jim restrained a smile. Spock flickered an eyebrow. "At any rate," Spock said, "if you look at the evaluation of technological advancement, you will see that the first landing on the Vulcan neighbor-planet Charis took place late in that millennium, approximately three hundred years before the birth of Surak. Exploration and exploitation of the 40 Eri star system by Vulcan industrial and scientific interests continued through those three centuries without major incident. But here -- " a marker flickered into existence on the screens, tagged with a date, 139954 -- "an incident occurred indeed. Vulcan had its first contact with another species, and the encounter was more than enough to set the planet into a xenophobic reaction that not even the influence of Surak, then alive, would be able to stop."
The time line went away, replaced by a map of part of the Sagittarius Arm of the Galaxy -- the arm that Vulcan and Earth shared. But on the scale of this map, both of them were tucked away far down in a corner, and mapped-out zones of contrasting colors, one large, one small, tangled through one another like amo bas having an argument. "You will recognize from your history," Spock said, "the area of influence once controlled by the interstellar empire our historians call the Inshai Compact. The compact was an association of thirty-six hominid- and nonhominid-settled starsystems in the Galactic-northward part of the arm: a very old association, quite stable, quite resistant to the economic and military pressures of the only other major force in those spaces, the 'nonaligned' planets of the southern Orion Congeries. At least, the compact was resistant to the Congeries until someone put a sunkiller bomb into sigma-1014 Orionis, and thereby destroyed the hearthworld of the compact, the planet Inshai itself."
"I thought they had never proved that it was a bomb," said Tomson, frowning.
"The odds are exceptionally high," Spock said. "The star was not of a flare type, and the old records of its spectrographic history are quite complete and unremarkable. It should still be there now...but it is not. With it gone, and Inshai and all its subsidiary planets in that system -- the heart of the Inshai bureaucracy -- the power and restraining and protective influences of the compact fell apart in a very short period. The result was a reign of terror in those spaces, as the worlds of the Orion Congeries swept in and began the piracies they had long desired. Wars, and economic and societal collapse, destroyed planetary populations: starvation and plague finished most of those who managed to survive the invasions. And the great interstellar corporations of the compact, long decentralized but also held in check by Inshai's rule of law, now took the law into their own hands or became -- the law, by fiat. The company ships went out armed with planet-cracker weapons to fight over the trade routes and raw materials they felt they had to have: they blackmailed whole planets and destroyed those that would not submit. In the power vacuum, even the more scattered compact worlds, formerly peaceful places like Etosha and Duthul, fell into this kind of piracy. They could not otherwise maintain their influence, or their technology, much of which derived from Inshai. They entered into deals with the corporations, or with other planets equally desperate, and made terror and rapine their industry." Spock's eyes were shadowed; Jim felt a slight chill, having his own suspicions of what a Vulcan thought of such behavior.
"Those worlds and corporations later degenerated into the guilds and companies that were the direct ancestors of the Orion pirates of today," Spock said. "But the Vulcans of that time knew nothing of that -- just yet. Suffice it to say that after the pirates had exhausted the richer and closer prizes and settled old scores with the remnants of Inshai, they turned their eyes farther afield. Estimates are that the first notice of electromagnetic signals from Vulcan was taken around the time of the birth of Surak. It was about the same time," Spock said drily, "that the light from the novaed sigma-1014 Orionis reached Vulcan. Some later claimed that it was a sign in the heavens acknowledging Surak's birth. It came as something of a shock to discover differently, some forty-five years later."
Spock turned away from the computer, folding lus hands reflectively. "There had been discussion since spaceflight began of what the first contacts with alien life would be like," he said. "Generally, it was anticipated with pleasure, or at least great interest. The earlier Vulcan tradition lacks 'the fear of the stranger.' On old Vulcan, there was no need to fear the stranger who came out of nowhere: to him, one offered hospitality without stinting. The one to be feared was the one who habitually competed with you for water and food and shelter. Your enemy was your neighbor, and vice versa. So other life was by and large perceived as a marvel, and possibly economically exploitable. By Surak's time, research had already been in hand for a century or so on the physics and psi-technologies that would be needed to take generation ships out to the nearest stars."
Spock let out a long breath. "However," he said, "the Duthulhiv pirates who were the first to arrive had no intent to be satisfied merely with the Vulcans' hospitality. They had spent some time developing their technique for first-contact of a planet they wished to loot, and it worked perfectly on Vulcan. They surveyed the planet covertly, from well out of sensor range, and then made properly stumbling first radio contacts from several light-weeks outside the system. To reduce the story to its shortest form, they were invited into the system as the planet's guests, and a party of dignitaries agreed to meet with them regarding diplomatic relations. But the Duthulhiv arrived with an invasion force, and the treaty group was taken hostage or killed. From such a point of perceived advantage, the pirates usually wont on to subdue the planet in question by extortionate ransom and outright destruction."
Spock got a wry look. "However, they had made the mistake of assuming that the unity of their reception, by all the planet's nations, meant that the planet was unified and at peace, and therefore mostly disarmed. Their observation of the Vulcan merchant fleet, which from agreement in earliest times has never carried arms, seemed to confirm this. What the Duthulhiv pirates did not clearly perceive was that the planet was in probably its most violent period of many -- and that in fact several wars had been postponed so that the Duthulhiv 'negotiations' could be handled. The pirates were driven out, most bloodily, but with dispatch." Spock paused. "There were many terrible aftereffects of that episode, but the rift that the first arrival of aliens drove into the Vulcan people was one that almost tore the planet apart. Many said that the only way to handle a universe that held such species was to go out in power and subdue them -- to become a terror ourselves. Others said that such vileness did not need to contaminate us -- we should shut ourselves up in our planet, with our own wars, which we understood, and let no one ever come near us again, whether potentially friend or foe. Only Surak was able to bring the planet through that time." Spock bowed his head. "And he died of it."
"I dare say the aliens are blamed for that as well," Meshav said in its soft fluting voice.
"By some, yes," Spock said. "Insofar as a Vulcan of today will admit to an emotion as crass and debasing as blame. That is the context in which the rest of this information must be viewed."
He brought up the time line again. "This kind of time scale seems very remote to Terrans, I suspect," Spock said. "Rather as if an Earth person of our time were insisting on reacting adversely to something that happened while the pyramids were being built. But the racial memory of the peoples of Earth is a mercifully vague and sporadic thing compared to the precision, and intimate nature, of racial memory as a Vulcan experiences it. Those old memories are closer to us than any dream: they are more accessible than the Terran subconscious. They are not archetype. They are experience, passed down via direct and indirect engram implant, through a psi talent of which, by tradition, I may say little. But every Vulcan experiences Surak's time, and its events, to some extent, as if he or she was there -- and rarely with any guarantee of homogeneity of reaction."
"But with logic," Harb Tanzer said.
"You hope," McCoy muttered.
Spock nodded. "The doctor is, unfortunately, correct. Logic is not a disease that all Vulcans have somehow managed to catch, though sometimes Terrans like to pretend it is so. It is a taught way of life, one that affects some Vulcans more profoundly than others; just as one religion or another, or one philosophy or another, will affect a given Earth person more or less profoundly than another. We are not of a piece, any more than the people of Earth are. Some of us will regard the Terrans, and the Federation, with logic in place...and others will not."
"I suspect," Jim said, "that it's mostly those others that we have to fear."
"Not necessarily," Spock said. "It is some of the most logical who appear to be spearheading this move to have Vulcan leave the Federation."
He tapped at the keyboard again. "Here is the English-language text of the official communiqué that was sent to the Federation High Council," said Spock. "You will note the wording. This is a statement of intent to consider withdrawing a prior legislation...that legislation being Vulcan's Articles of Association with the Federation. The document comes from hr'Khash'te, only one of the three legislative bodies which handle Vulcan's planetary legislation. The other two bodies -- their names translate as the 'Proposal Group' and the 'Rectification Group' -- put forward and pass or amend legislation. But the hr'Khash'te, the 'Expunging Group,' exists only to veto or remove laws. And it is the easiest to drive a change through. The other two bodies require a large majority to pass legislation. Expunction requires only one-fourth of the body's two thousand six members to remove a law...the idea being that a good law should require a fairly large consensus -- avoiding the proposal of frivolous or unnecessary statutes -- and a bad law should be made easy to stop or change."
"Very logical," said Scotty.
"Also exploitable," said Spock. "There has been a considerable dependence on the rule of logic to keep good laws from being illogically removed, or bad ones from being illogically passed. It happens sometimes. Vulcan is not quite Heaven, I am afraid."
"News to me," McCoy said under his breath.
Spock flicked him a glance, no more. "At any rate, the system can be subverted, and has been. There are numerous parties and groups on Vulcan who find the planet's association with the Federation, and Terrans in particular, distasteful or unethical for a number of reasons. Some -- many -- hold the view that there should be no association with a species that goes through the Galaxy armed: such association, they say, is inevitably a corrupting influence on the rule of peace and logic. These groups point at the increasing number of Vulcans affiliated with Starfleet -- and at the fact that they are sometimes required by their oaths to handle weapons or perhaps to act violently in the line of duty -- and they claim that this is the beginning of the corruption of the species and a potential return to the old warlike ways that almost doomed the planet." Spock looked, for eyes that could see, just mildly embarrassed. "For a long time my father was one of the staunchest adherents to this theory, and I understand from him that he has been called back to the planet to give evidence on its behalf. He will be a powerful proponent."
"Wait a minute there, Spock," McCoy said, and this time he looked wide awake, though there was no telling from his face just what he was thinking. "You aren't tryin' to tell me that anyone can tell your father what to say if he doesn't want to say it. Even I know Sarek that well."
"There are forces moving that it would take a long time to explain, Doctor," Spock said. "I doubt even I understand them all: I have been away from home too long. But if T'Pau calls a Vulcan in to testify, she has considerable power to exert to see that just that happens. Not that she would stoop to mere power, when doubtless she considers that she has marshaled reasons in logic sufficient to produce the result she desires. Unless my father can produce a logic more compelling than hers, and reasons that cause her to change her mind, he will do exactly as she bids him. And of his own free will."
That caused a brief silence. All of Vulcan in one package, Jim had once called her, and correctly. The only being ever to turn down a seat on the Federation High Council when called to it, T'Pau was immensely old and immensely powerful, in ways that humans found difficult to understand. He still didn't understand her, not really. His one brief encounter with her, on the sands of the mating-place of Spock's family, had been quite enough. He still could feel it on him like hot scorching sun, that fierce, old, dry regard -- eyes that looked on him as impersonally as on a stone, but with intent and calculation eternally and sedately going on behind them...calculation that would make a computer ask for shore leave. "Is she behind this movement to get Vulcan out of the Federation?" Jim said.
"I do not know," Spock said. "It is one of many things we must discover. But this much I know: the matter as it stands now could not have gotten so far without her approval...at least her tacit approval."
Jim nodded at Spock to continue. "As I mentioned, these groups have been in existence on Vulcan for, in some cases, hundreds of years. The groups who want us out for fear of Vulcan being contaminated are in the ascendant in numbers and popularity, but there are also groups who believe that we are infringing your rights -- your human rights, you might say -- to be Terran; that our life-style should not be allowed to influence yours to the detriment of your own." McCoy's eyebrows went up. "Before you approve, Doctor," Spock said, "I should perhaps mention that these groups also consider logic and reason to be out of the grasp of humans. Some of the more extreme of them suggest that humans would be better off swinging in trees, as they did long ago, before they learned about walking upright, and fire, and genocide." McCoy opened his mouth, then shut it again. "What they suggest for Vulcans," Spock said, "you may imagine. Or perhaps you had better not. But the one piece of this situation that I find most interesting is the fact that never have all these groups, large and small, come together to coordinate their efforts. They always seemed to have too many points of disagreement. But many differences seem to have been resolved...and the number of resolutions, and the speed of them, has made me suspicious."
"T'Pau?" McCoy said. "And why?"
"Unknown," Spock said. "But unlikely, by my reckoning. She is indeed in many ways the embodiment of our planet -- both ancient and modern -- but for the past two centuries she has been content to let matters take their course, through much worse times than these. It seems illogical that T'Pau would take so extreme a course against the Federation, and so traumatic a course for the planet, at so late a date: it argues a most shocking series of flaws in her logic not to have seen the status quo coming and prevented it sooner." Spock steepled his fingers, gazed into space for a moment. "I think we must look elsewhere for the architect of the secessionists' unity. I hope to have time to reason out exactly where. But time is going to be short."
"How fast is whatever happens going to happen?" Scotty said.
Spock tilted his head to one side. "Essentially, as long as the planetary population finds it interesting or edifying to listen to the arguments. It is safest to reckon no more than a week for this proceeding. The Expunging Group has agreed that the law making Vulcan part of the Federation should be removed from the statute rolls. Normally the law would already be void. But T'Pau prevailed on the Vulcan High Council, the senior legislators who put final approval on statutes that have passed the "lower" legislature, to offer this expunction to the planet for approval by plurality. She told them, I believe correctly, that the issue was too large a one to leave in the hands of mere legislators."
Jim's eyebrow went up at that. "So we have a week to debate this issue, on the public comm. channels, I take it."
"It may be a week. It may be more. A prior plurality of the Vulcan electorate will be necessary to stop debate before the voting on the Referendum itself begins."
"Are any of them really going to pay attention to all this filibustering?" McCoy said.
"Doctor," Spock said, "in the modem Vulcan language, the word for 'idiot' is derived directly from an older compound word that means 'one who fails to participate in civil affairs.' Ninety-eight percent of all Vulcans have held some sort of public office by the time they are two hundred. They will be paying attention, and participating."
McCoy looked slightly stunned. "Debate will go on until a threshold number of viewers have indicated they want it stopped," Spock said. "Some two billion, I believe. The exact number is being determined at the moment. Then the electorate will vote. Many votes will be swayed by what is said in the debates, and who says it -- though I suspect many minds of being made up already. Illogical though that may be."
"What are you going to be saying?" Harb Tanzer said quietly. "Whose side are you coming down on?"
Spock looked at him, a steady gaze. "I have not yet decided," he said. "Logic must dictate my stance -- most especially in my case, for I will be most carefully watched...as carefully as my father, or T'Pau. Or you, Captain."
"Noted," Jim said.
"If my credibility suffers," Spock said, "so will the Federation's cause. I must take great care. But the issues are complex...and it might be that the best way to support the Federation would be to argue against it."
There was a long silence at this. "So after the debates," McCoy said, "come the votes. And if the vote is to stay in the Federation?"
"Then we go back on patrol," Jim said.
"And if the Vulcans vote to secede?"
"Then all public trade and defense agreements lapse. Private ones are subject to renegotiation if all involved parties desire. But all Vulcan civilians must either return permanently to Vulcan -- or emigrate permanently, if they desire to reside elsewhere. All Vulcan bases and vessels in Federation service will be withdrawn; all Vulcan diplomatic personnel, starships, and starship personnel will be recalled," Spock said. "Those who disobey the order will be stripped of their Vulcan citizen status and exiled. The Federation will cease to exist for Vulcan." Spock looked up. "You will be dead to us."
The silence that followed was considerable. "Any further questions?" Jim said.
There were none.
"Very well," Jim said. "A somewhat abbreviated version of this briefing will be given to the crew at large tomorrow: please note it in your scheduling. Dismissed, and I'll see you all at the mixer later. Mr. Spock, Doctor, will you stay a moment?"
The room cleared out. Jim stretched a little, trying to get rid of the crick that his back always acquired during a long briefing. When the door hissed shut for the last time, he said to Spock, "What are the odds?"
"Of Vulcan seceding?" Spock said. "They are high. I have been running syntheses of the most pertinent data through the computer, on and off, for some months now. The odds are presently on the close order of seventy percent."
McCoy whistled softly to himself. "Not the best odds for a gamblin' man," he said.
"Time to change the odds, then," Jim said.
McCoy looked at him. "How?"
"I haven't the faintest idea. But this ship's encounters with Vulcan never go quite according to the rules...you notice that?"
Bones smiled. "You want me to slip the whole planet a mickey," he said, "I'd better get cooking. What are you thinking of, Jim?"
"I truly don't know. Just both of you...keep your eyes and ears open and tell me anything you think I need to know. Spock, is there a chance of my having a quiet talk with your father when we get to Vulcan?"
"Almost certainly. I believe he will have had the same idea."
"Good." Jim stretched again in the chair, put his hands up behind his head. "We're not going to let the best first officer in the Fleet go that easily...or the rest of the planet, either." He brooded for a moment, then said, "Go on, you two. I'll see you at the mixer."
They went. After a while Jim leaned forward to flick at the controls of the screen in front of him. The graphic view on it gave way to the darkness of space, and stars rushing past in it, a silent stream of threads of light. He put his head down on his arms and gazed into the darkness, thinking...
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